Review Summary: Big up, big up, it's a stick up, stick up.
Ambition is supposed to be a young man’s game. Decades into illustrious careers, Killer Mike and El-P, both standing on the precipice of 40, have conquered the fickle tendencies of hip-hop fans worldwide in their respective niches – Mike with his dirty South Dungeon Family foundation, and Jaime in his tradition of extraterrestrial underground hits. Logically
, these two underground juggernauts should be stuck in the mud, rehashing the glory days to middling success a la every other once-icon of rap. But, forever discontent with convention, the now celebrated duo has said it with each release since R.A.P. Music
, and for anyone who still ain’t get the memo, Run the Jewels 2
is happy to reiterate: fuck logic. In another concise, frills-free edition of the Run the Jewels show, Jaime and Mike have built upon the vigorous and dynamic foundation that made their first album a resounding success, and though it’s perhaps outshined by its predecessor, RTJ2
might just be the most ambitious work of both of their careers.
From the jump, two different, yet complementing styles rear their heads on RTJ2
- the live as fuck, seismic bangers that perpetuated the group’s debut are of course back in full force, but they’re met with tracks driven by an equally no-bullshit, rebel yell superego, glazed over with a patina of the political – the type of lyrical fare El-P has trademarked. Songs like “Early” and “Crown” are eerie downtempo canvases, granting Mike and El free reign to wax political on the recent rash of police shootings, the cult of the military, and the regret-breeding streets of Mike’s Atlanta. Meanwhile, in the vein of last year’s Run the Jewels
, the album’s first half is a bevy of thumping, manic hitters. Mike’s prodigious “Jeopardy” verse might be his best ever, stacked with vicious quotables every other bar – “The Jewel Runners, top tag team for two summers /Live and let live, fuck you cuz, ‘cause that’s a fool’s honor,” “You know your favorite rapper ain’t shit, and me I might be,” among myriad others – while the murky undertow of the beat meanders through the musty back-alleys of Mike’s Cimmerian mind, opening the album on a gravely forbidding note.
“Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” is a space-laced soundboard peppered with ululations and lambent sirens while Mike and El condense an album’s worth of dynamic flows into rapid-fire back and forth verses. It’s the captivating and convivial archetype for Run the Jewels’ tandem rap, featuring legitimate left-field knee slappers (“You can all run naked backwards through a field of dicks”), seamless tradeoffs (El’s “I do two things I rap and fuck” into Mike’s “I fuckin’ rap”), and the aforementioned thesaurus of flows, but the song’s most ensnaring moment is its sudden transition into the beat’s jaw-dropping second half, a jangly and boisterous spasm of an instrumental, devoid of planetary allegiances that Mike predictably slays. And as if one wasn’t enough, at “Oh My”’s end, another perfect transition leads us into the rumbling “Blockbuster Night Pt. I,” a minimalist, grim set for more venomous back-and-forth between Mike and El. El-P’s work on the boards on “All Due Respect” is a light-speed chromatic aurora, punctuated by plasma and war cries, made complete by Mike and El’s furious onslaught of rhymes, while Travis Barker’s consummate drumwork provides the best feature on the album.
Run the Jewels 2
finds Jaime and Mike firing on all cylinders; Killer Mike’s at the top of his lyrical game, with jaw crushing punches (“I’ll beat you to a pulp, no fiction”) and 99 styles which find him channeling everyone from Future (“Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”) to Posdnuos (“Love Again”), while El-P’s ever-evolving, multi-layered sci-fi beats are fresh, accessible, and consistently thrilling. Despite this, RTJ2
occasionally suffers from trying to do too much at once; for one, Mike’s litany of flows sometimes get in the way of some of his more chilling lines. But more importantly, where Run the Jewels
was an uninterrupted dedication to speaker-blasting system thumpers, RTJ2
’s industrious juxtaposition of the anyone-can-get-it hitters and cerebral politiflows can sometimes interrupt the pacing of the album – this comes to an unfortunate head on the album’s only misstep, “Love Again,” whose lame hook and atrocious feature are highlighted further by its conspicuity in the flow of the album. But outside of “Love Again,” the album is chock-full of jams from front to back, and RTJ2
, in its astonishing scope and finesse, continues a tradition of greatness for the unlikely duo, and serves as one of the more distinguished bright spots in an otherwise stale year for hip-hop.